© Don Farber
© Don Farber

Ani Pachen Dolma, the Tibetan nun made legendary for her leadership in resistance to the Chinese occupation of Tibet and for her subsequent twenty-one-year imprisonment, died of heart failure at her home in Dharamsala, India, on February 2, 2002. She was sixty-nine years old.

The only child of a powerful Tibetan chieftain, Ani Pachen was training to become a nun in 1950 when the Chinese invaded Tibet. In 1958, after the death of her father, she left her spiritual practice to take his place, leading her people into the hills in a guerilla campaign against the Chinese invaders.

After months of struggle, narrow escapes, and hardship, Ani Pachen was captured. Over the next two decades she was held in some of the harshest Chinese prisons in Tibet. During the course of her imprisonment, she was shackled for over a year, confined for nine months in an underground cell, and repeatedly interrogated and beaten. Despite the torture she endured at the hands of her captors (with her arms tied behind her back, she was hoisted into the air by her wrists, then beaten until her shoulders were dislocated), Ani Pachen never lost her commitment to Buddhist practice. During her nine-month confinement underground, she completed one hundred thousand prostrations, and throughout her imprisonment, she followed the Tibetan Buddhist practice of tonglen, asking to take on the suffering of others. “Let me be the one to suffer, instead of them,” she often prayed.

 © Don Farber
© Don Farber

 

In 1981, during an easing of tensions between the Tibetans and the Chinese, many prisoners were released, among them Ani Pachen. Finding her home destroyed and her family lost, she remained in Lhasa, where she helped to organize the first peaceful demonstrations against the Chinese occupation. In 1988, in danger of being rearrested for her efforts, she fled on foot over the Himalayas into Nepal. In 1989 she arrived in Dharamsala and there fulfilled her lifelong dream of meeting the Dalai Lama.

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